Tuesday, January 27, 2015

2014 "Best of the Best" - Part 2

Out of the 115 books I read last year, several stood out to me for various reasons - their character depth, emotional impact, or simply how good they made me feel. There wasn't room to list all of these on one post, hence a "Part 2"! All are excellent reads that I highly recommend - and they deserve a special highlighting of their own. Some of these authors will also be featured in giveaways soon, so stay tuned!

These are listed in alphabetical order by the author's last name, and you can click on the covers or titles to see my reviews. Have you read any from this list?

Humor, quirky characters, and a small-town New Mexico setting combine to make my first read by Cathleen Armstrong memorable.

First book in a delightful Amish romance about an elderly couple who decide to meddle in their grandchildren's lives in order to help them find suitable mates. Jennifer brings humor to the Amish genre and I can't get enough of her writing.

Loved by me and numerous others for her Amish fiction, Vannetta ventures into the romantic suspense area with this incredible debut novel.

One of my favorite genres is southern fiction, and Judy does it extremely well. Big oil companies, small-town Louisiana setting, and a group of community of artists combine for a highly entertaining read.

I loved everything about this story set during the months after WWII ends - the setting, richness of characterization, spiritual inspiration, and the emotional struggle to adapt and find one's place when you're not the same as before.

I'm not particularly fond of time travel or ancient Rome settings, but this book is highly entertaining, relevant, and challenging for us today - and downright hard to put down!

With its expressive narrative, rich characterization, rugged setting, and spellbinding romance, Jody continues to excel at historical romance. These characters are still in my mind.

Julie writes the kind of Regency romances that I want to read slowly so as to savor every word and minute spent in its pages. With its theme of music and dance, this was a favorite.

This is an unusual Amish story, with plot and characterization so strong that its appeal should reach beyond Amish fiction fans. I'm so glad to have discovered Ruth's writing!

This is an unusual historical romance, nothing predictable about it. Strong in characterization and spiritual message, with one of the most satisfying conclusions I've ever read.

This is an excellent relationship drama that pulls at the heartstrings, a story of three people who simply need each other.

Dan takes us on a journey where the characters rediscover the things that matter most in life - love, truth, and family. This was my first Dan Walsh read, and what an impact it made!

By Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller, Tricia Goyer, Vannetta Chapman
Amish stories by four wonderful authors, with unusual depth and characterization for a novella collection. One of the best I've read, left me wanting more.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A "Jewel" of a GIVEAWAY!!

The Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective series by Cindy Vincent is a delight! Although written for young readers in the 8- to 12-year range, I enjoyed every minute spent with these delightful felines and their humans. The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues (click on title to see my review) is not only well written, funny, and heartwarming, but Christian values are cleverly woven throughout. Highly recommended to young readers and cat lovers alike.

Now I invite you to join Cindy, Buckley, and Bogey in celebrating with a “jewel” of a giveaway!

Cindy:  Speaking of jewels . . . we've got a few to giveaway ourselves as part of our blog tour! Here's what three lucky winners will get when they enter the blog tour giveaway.

One winner will receive this stunning Sentiments bracelet from Premier Designs. The beads are copper, brass and silver-plated, and inscribed with the words faith, hope or love, with a sparkling crystal in the center of each. One size fits all. Perfect for day to evening wear. Not suitable for young children.

A second winner will receive this fun and trendy Bella Perlina bracelet with a couple of cute sterling-plated cat charms, along with several other beads and charms as shown. More beads can be added later. One size fits all. Not suitable for young children.

A third winner will receive a complete set of the Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Capers! Starting with the first episode, The Case of the Cat Show Princes; to the second episode, The Case of the Crafty Christmas Crooks; and now the third and latest release, The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues. Very suitable for young children, as well as cat lovers of any age! Holy Catnip!

Enter today by clicking on either of these links:



Litfuse Blog Tour

Giveaway ends on February 8. Winner will be announced here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review: The Secret of Pembrooke Park

The Secret of Pembrooke Park
By Julie Klassen
Bethany House, 2014


Abigail Foster is the practical daughter. She fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry, and the one man she thought might marry her seems to have fallen for her younger, prettier sister.

Facing financial ruin, Abigail and her father search for more affordable lodgings, until a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll's house left mid-play...

The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem acquainted with the manor's past, the only information they offer is a stern warning: Beware trespassers drawn by rumors that Pembrooke Park contains a secret room filled with treasure.

This catches Abigail's attention. Hoping to restore her family's finances--and her dowry--Abigail looks for this supposed treasure. But eerie sounds at night and footprints in the dust reveal she isn't the only one secretly searching the house.

Then Abigail begins receiving anonymous letters, containing clues about the hidden room and startling discoveries about the past.

As old friends and new foes come calling at Pembrooke Park, secrets come to light. Will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?

My thoughts

Several factors make Julie Klassen's writing stand out in the Christian fiction genre - the quality of the writing itself; rich historical detail; ability to vividly convey a feel and sense of place; and a realistic touch when it comes to customs, manners, dress, and social strata of the Regency era. I have greatly enjoyed every one of Julie Klassen's novels that I've read so far, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park is a welcome addition to her repertoire.

Great Chalfield Manor - Wiltshire, England

The story is in Berkshire, 1818, at Pembrooke Park, inspired by the impressive Great Chalfield Manor in Wiltshire, England. At 456 pages, the pacing seems slow at times, but that's actually a trait of Julie's writing that I enjoy because this isn't a story I would want to rush through. Spreading my reading out over several days allowed me to immerse myself in the story, savoring the English setting and characters.

I've read enough mysteries in my lifetime to appreciate how well Julie handled this element. While not a traditional gothic romance by any means, I loved how a few gothic elements were carefully scattered throughout - a secret room, steps in the night, objects misplaced, pages from a journal, sightings of a mysterious cloaked figure. And what a mood setter is this description of the drawing room through Abigail's eyes:  "It appeared as though the occupants had just been called away. A tea set sat on the round table, cups encrusted with dry tea. A book lay open over the arm of the sofa. A needlework project, nearly finished, lay trapped under an overturned chair." As with any jigsaw puzzle, all of the pieces must be present in order to see the complete picture - and Julie was very effective at laying out one piece at a time, until everything beautifully came together at the end.

It was refreshing to see such intelligent and compassionate characters as William and Abigail, and I was drawn to them immediately. Abigail, who had always stood in her sister's shadow, grows emotionally in a way that readers will love. I liked how the relationship between Abigail and William started out as friendship and grew into something more over time.

All Saints Parish Church - Great Chalfield Manor

The parish church and William as curate feature prominently in the story and I especially enjoyed the worship scenes and spiritual insight of William's sermons. Themes that are gently woven throughout - like greed and its far-reaching effects, the treasure of friendship, righting wrongs, making restitution - certainly speak to all of us. I thought Abigail's words at the end captured the essence of this story:

"Ah, the weary wonder of this life. Of faith. And family. And friends. The truest treasures we can ever know or possess."

The Secret of Pembrooke Park was a wonderful story and I eagerly await Julie Klassen's next novel. Highly recommended.

Click on the titles to see my reviews of Julie's two previous books, The Dancing Master and The Tutor's Daughter.

Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane--Jane Eyreand Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. She has won three Christy Awards in the Historical Romance category for The Silent Governess (2010), The Girl in the Gatehouse (2011), and The Maid of Fairbourne Hall (2012). Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Connect with Julie online at julieklassen.com or Facebook.

Thank you to Bethany House for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Spotlight + GIVEAWAY: Lorena McCourtney, Best of the Best in 2014

A few weeks ago, I posted my 2014 favorites, which you can see at My 2014 "Best of the Best" in Christian Fiction. Over the next few weeks, I am delighted to spotlight a few of these authors with giveaways, so be sure to come back.

I am honored to have Lorena McCourtney visit with us this week. Lorena excels at writing cozy mysteries, a genre I have enjoyed for more years than I care to admit, and I'm glad to see mysteries of this quality in Christian fiction. Lorena's writing is strong, characters loveable, mysteries well plotted - but what assures Lorena a place on my favorites list is her humor. Let me just say that Death Takes a Ride contains some of the funniest scenes I've ever read, and that is a gift in itself. (Click on the title to see my review.)

By the way, Lorena told me that her publisher, Revell, has been calling her a "New York Times Bestselling Author" because Dying to Read, Book #1 in the Cate Kinkaid series, made it onto a NY Times bestseller list. That's indeed a great accomplishment! So please sit back and enjoy all that Lorena has to share . . .


Lorena:  About Death Takes a Ride and the lighthearted Cate Kinkaid series: What I basically wanted to say in this series, the "heart" of the series, is that God may have plans for us that diverge widely what we have planned, and those plans may be outside what we've ever considered - very good plans, even if they come as something of a shock.  Cate had never thought about being a private investigator - but just look where the Lord is taking her!

In Death Takes a Ride, which is the conclusion of the 3-book series, I wanted to use an idea that has been in the back of my mind for a long time, but which never seemed to fit into what I was writing at the time. A story about an obvious self-defense situation, backed up by a credible person witnessing it. But all is not as it seems on the surface.

I enjoy writing these lighthearted, fun mysteries. My mind, even when I'm thinking I'll be really serious, always seems to see the humorous aspects in a situation.

With the conclusion of the Cate Kinkaid series, I've been working on a book #5 in my older, but quite popular Ivy Malone Mysteries series. The title is "Go, Ivy, Go!," and I'm hoping to have it ready for release as an ebook in the first half of 2015. I've been working on it much longer than I originally planned, stalled several times by my own or my husband's medical problems (and a big "medical" problem with my computer too!). This is also a lighthearted series, about an older woman dismayed to find she seems to have aged into invisibility. But seeing that being "invisible" can be a useful asset for a sleuth. The titles are on the first four books are Invisible, In Plain Sight, On the Run, and Stranded.


Carole:  Invisible was the first book of Lorena's that I read, and I was instantly a fan. So I am delighted that #5 in the Ivy Malone series will be coming out soon.

Lorena, I am honored that you would take the time to be with us and hope you will come back again. And thank you so much for sharing a copy. Readers, if you haven't discovered Lorena's books already, I hope you will try one soon. They are indeed a delight.


To enter the drawing for Death Takes a Ride, simply comment on the following:

Lorena said that the "heart" of her series is that God may have plans for us that diverge widely what we have planned. I suspect that's something many of us have learned the hard way, so please briefly share an experience you've had in that area. If it's funny, that's all the better!

E-mail addresses are required for the drawing and be sure to leave them in a safe format - [at] and [dot].

"Likes" on my Facebook page, ThePowerofWordsBookReviews, are greatly appreciated, as are followers on Google+, Pinterest, Twitter, and this blog.

Contest ends at midnight PST on Tuesday, February 3. Winner will be chosen by Random.org and contacted by e-mail. US addresses only.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues

The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues
By Cindy Vincent
A Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Caper, #3
Whodunit Press, 2014


Buckley and Bogey, Cat Detectives, find their next big case with the Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Agency to be their most complicated ever! It all starts when someone hides a mysterious package in their Mom's antique store --- in the middle of the night! Of course, the boys find it, and put it in a nice, safe place, until they can open it . . . and, find the rightful owner. But that's when a whole bunch of suspicious people show up in St. Gertrude, and every single one of them seems to be after that package! Holy Catnip! Plus, everything happens just when a priceless, jeweled statue collection goes on display at the St. Gertrude Museum. Missing from that collection are two jewel covered cat statues that disappeared almost a hundred and fifty years ago.

But soon Buckley and Bogey wonder how long those statues will stay missing. Because this is one case that really keeps them on their paws! From a trip to the Museum, and to an old church for the Blessing of the Animals; and from dinosaurs to diamonds, they end up dodging shady suspects the whole time. It sure helps to have their friends with them, especially when the bad guys make a beeline for boys. That's because it becomes very clear, very quick --- the priceless cat statues aren't the only cats those crooks are after! Holy Mackerel!

My thoughts

While The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues by Cindy Vincent is written for young readers, somewhere in the 8- to 12-year range, I enjoyed every minute spent with these delightful felines and their humans. Obviously, I'm an easy audience for this story because I'm a cat lover, but no amount of loving cats can make a bad book enjoyable. Cindy's story has so much going for it because it's very well written, funny, imaginative, heartwarming, and important life lessons are cleverly woven throughout.

Best friends and cat detectives, Bogey and Buckley, are quite a pair. Lead detective Bogey is thin and kind of wiry, able to "run so fast that some say he can even fly." His crime-solving partner and narrator of the story, Buckley, is a two-year-old Maine Coon. Buckley and Bogey love their humans, run surveillance at night to protect them, and prove to be quite adept at solving mysteries. Other household cats and their friends populate these pages, including Princess, Lil Bit, and Miss Mokie, "The Wise One" who rules the house with an iron paw. The cats talk among themselves, even use the Internet, and have distinct personalities and strengths which they use to help.


"It was funny how humans never understood what good crime solvers cats could be."
- Buckley

In some ways, The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues makes me think of a fable - for a fable is a tale that teaches a moral lesson, often with animals as characters - and that is exactly what Cindy's stories do. In addition to the well-plotted mystery and tons of humor, Christian values are gently and quietly woven throughout, in a way that offers a springboard for discussion with young ones - values like teamwork, mentoring, growing pains, love of family, hard work, persistence, the wisdom that comes from a long life, learning to look beneath the surface, and reaching out to people with disabilities.

I found several parts of this story especially touching. First, that the senior Miss Mokie was loved, respected, and sought after for both her company and the wisdom she offered. Secondly, the way other cats reached out to two special-needs cats, Annie (blind) and Henry (deaf), and worked to find them loving homes.  What a difference it would make if these essential lessons could be learned in childhood! Another part was how Buckley and Bogey interacted with 12-year-old Gracie as she struggled with her piano recital piece, something to which I can totally relate!

I believe one reason I enjoyed this book so much is that I could connect with the cats through their feelings, fears, desires, etc. - and even those who aren't cat lovers can do that. I loved how Buckley, with the help of his brother and other loving cats, grew throughout this story and made a most important discovery . . .

"Friendship was the real treasure. . . . Without friends, we'd never really be happy."

The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues is a book that will entertain young readers, easily opening up teaching moments if adults read it also. And in thinking back to how much I enjoyed my mom reading to me, I believe this book could work very well as a family read-aloud book. I fell in love with all these cats and will be reading more from this series. Highly recommended. 5-star rating for young readers and cat lovers of all ages.

This review is approved by my Ebony.

Last year I reviewed a sweet devotional by Cindy, drawn from her experiences with the cats in her life. You can see this review by clicking on the title, Cats Are Part of His Kingdom, Too.

Now you can get to know the real Buckley & Bogey, cat detectives . . .

The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues can be purchased online at Amazon, B&N, Books a Million

Cindy Vincent was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and has lived all around the US and Canada. She holds an M.A.Ed, and is the creator of the Mysteries by Vincent murder mystery party games and the Daisy Diamond Detective Series games for girls. She is also the award-winning author of the Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Caper books, the Daisy Diamond Detective book series, and the Cats are Part of His Kingdom, Too: 33 Daily Devotions to Understanding God's Love. She lives with her husband and the real, live Buckley and Bogey, who run surveillance on her house each and every night.

Meet Cindy, Buckley, and Bogey online at buckleyandbogey.com, Facebook, and Pinterest

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Be sure to visit Cindy's Litfuse tour page to learn more. And join Cindy, Buckley, and Bogey in celebrating with a “jewel” of a giveaway by clicking on this link to Cindy's website to enter.